Volunteer of the Month
The important work that NAMI does on national, state and local levels is made possible by teams of volunteers aspiring to make an impact in their communities. NAMI NJ acknowledges the creative work and tireless efforts of dedicated volunteers across the state. “Volunteer of the Month” can be nominated by affiliates and statewide programs. For more information, contact NAMI NJ office at (732) 940-0991.
December 2020/ January 2021
Jehimy Talavera, a school social worker, and her husband Rog volunteered along with their two daughters, Chelsea and Chloe, at the 2019 NAMIWalks NJ where they enjoyed handing out water bottles and cheering up the crowds at the seaside boardwalk. The family’s goal is to help make a positive difference in other people’s lives. They believe in being a voice for those who cannot do it for themselves, in any small way that they can contribute. This past summer, the family reached out to NAMI NJ’s Walk Team again, eager to contribute to NAMI NJ’s first Virtual Walk during the pandemic and to raise mental health awareness. The family offered their passion, talents, and connections: Rog is a DJ and offered to emcee at the Virtual Rally; Jehimy and the two daughters made a thoughtful video to recruit walk volunteers; Jehimy also recruited her daughters’ dance teacher, Amanda Grace from Flair Dance Academy in Hillsborough, and a colleague from Morristown High School, who is also a yoga teacher, Cindy Chiariello, from Balance and Flow Yoga. Between them, we were entertained and emceed by DJ Rog, enjoyed a yoga warm-up from Cindy, heard what the girls enjoyed most about volunteering at last year’s walk and learned a dance routine from Amanda at our Virtual Walk Rally! We thank the Talavera family for being a key part of our Virtual Rally and Walk. Their dedication and passion have been exemplary and inspiring!
Sandy Powers has been a devoted volunteer with NAMI Union County for almost two decades. She is an effective event organizer, amazing gift shopper, outstanding baker, and exemplary gift solicitor behind the two annual events which NAMI Union County hosts for the local community – the Holiday Star Party in December and the Pizza Dance Party in June. Each year, these events have been held at a different adult day program; for many of those who attended, these are the only social events that they have. At one time, individuals with an illness were referred to as “consumers” – Sandy advocated for empowering and person-centered language and insisted on calling everyone a “guest.” Sandy personally baked about 800 delicious cookies of a dozen varieties for each summer pizza event which often drew large crowds, 140 people last June, who enjoyed pizza, participated in prize drawings and danced to music. Sandy always makes sure that there are sugar free cookies so no one is left out. It has been inspiring to watch Sandy’s compassion and attention to each guest making sure they come first. Each year Sandy reviews upcoming events and looks for ways to make them even more “guest focused.” Her mission is simple – Sandy wants to bring joy and respite into the lives of as many people as she can. Thank you, Sandy, for your devotion and labor of love for the community!
Rupeet Singh has been with NAMI NJ’s South Asian Mental Health Awareness program (SAMHAJ) for not even a year and her experiences have been invaluable. Her earnest and honest approach to things is seen as she tackles many tasks, from writing articles for SAMHAJ’s monthly e-newsletter to promoting SAMHAJ on social media. She is certainly hardworking, but her creativity and genuine desire to help others make her stand out. As a facilitator for SAMHAJ’s online social groups, Rupeet is an inspiration to other individuals with lived experience of mental illness. Her leadership qualities shine through her new role as the program’s Peer Engagement Specialist. She makes sure that everyone is engaged and heard, establishing a good rapport between individuals with lived experience and their family members. Her strength is her writing where she pens down her lived experiences with mental illness and interviews others of similar experiences. Rupeet is also leading the SAMHAJ Walk Team for this year’s NAMIWalks NJ. She is a great addition to NAMI NJ!
Annie Glynn became a member of NAMI Sussex in winter 2015 shortly after taking the NAMI Basics course. She started attending meetings, and joined the bylaws committee. She soon took a seat on their Board of Trustees, and by April 2016 she was elected president and has remained in that position until the present. 2016 was the year of re-affiliation, and Annie proved herself to be a master at establishing all the policies and procedures required for that process. She helped the board develop a strategic plan and skillfully guides them in working toward their goals and maintaining standing committees to accomplish the work of the affiliate. As their Walk Team Captain, Annie has led the NAMI Sussex Team to be one of the top fundraising teams for the past five years. Annie chairs the Fundraising Committee and previously chaired the Community Outreach and Program Committee. She also produces their monthly newsletter and manages their website. Annie understands how to keep the Board of Trustees focused and on target. She sees the “big picture” of what it takes to be a successful NAMI affiliate, and she’s also great at focusing on the details! We can’t thank her enough!
Strawberry Gallagher is an invaluable and enthusiastic volunteer for both NAMI NJ and NAMI Union County. Strawberry is a NAMI In Our Own Voice speaker at NAMI Union County’s Family-to-Family classes. She has also helped start and facilitate a NAMI Union County recovery support group at their monthly public meetings. The group offers a rare chance for people who have a mental illness diagnosis to gather together, share things, and develop friendships. In addition, Strawberry has supported NAMI Union County’s holiday party by getting fellow students and colleagues at Kean University to donate needed toiletries. In addition to volunteering with NAMI, Strawberry is currently teaching Sociology for the NJ STEP program and working towards her Doctorate in Educational Leadership from College of Saint Elizabeth. She is such an encourager for all at NAMI Union County and we salute her for her boundless energy and support!
Since 2015, Meghan’s volunteer work with NAMI Atlantic/Cape May has been invaluable. The affiliate relies on her contribution. Her personal attributes of kindness, calm demeanor, thoughtfulness, and good judgment make her an asset in any organization. As a committed board member since June 2016, Meghan has never missed a meeting; she provides exacting guidance in their discussions and ultimate voting. Her skillful handling of the monthly NAMI Connection group led to an increased number of consistent members. She is the technical director of the affiliate newsletter and consistently sends out announcements of all affiliate activities, increasing communication among community members. Meghan was trained as a NAMI Family-to-Family teacher and taught her first class in spring 2019. She is deserving of this recognition as she juggles work, graduate school, family, and her dedication to NAMI!
Roger Schwab became involved in NAMI about 15 years ago when he reached out to NAMI Mercer County for help with a family member with schizophrenia. He is a Patron Society member, a circle of financial supporters, with Mercer, and serves on the State Public Policy Committee representing Mercer. Recently, since moving to Passaic County, Roger has been helping to regenerate the Essex/Passaic affiliate. Roger was a key volunteer with NAMI NJ exhibiting at this year’s New Jersey League of Municipalities Convention in Atlantic City, alongside other NAMI NJ representatives. Thank you, Roger, for your commitment and the work you do for the community at large!
Wayne Vivian has been the President for NAMI Hudson County since 2015, after serving as the affiliate’s Vice President for 16 years since 1999. Because of Wayne’s involvement as Chair of the Hudson County Mental Health Board from 2005 to 2010, the Vice-President of the Coalition of Mental Health Consumer Organizations (COMHCO), a Senior Staff Specialist at Garden State Episcopal Community Development Cooperation since 2011, a member of the Medical Assistance Advisory Council (MAAC) the advisory body to the State’s Medicaid Program, a member of the New Jersey Mental Health Coalition, and a previous Consumer Representative on the NAMI NJ Board, Wayne has been able to bring a wealth of knowledge to families with regards to the latest updates in policies and advocacy resources at our support groups. Wayne has always taken the lead in facilitating NAMI Connection and other support meetings for individuals with lived experience of mental illness, from the inception of NAMI Hudson with empathy, kindness and enthusiasm. As a devoted leader, Wayne has helped tremendously whenever the affiliate needed help in putting together well-written letters for either our families or our affiliate. Under his leadership, NAMI Hudson has grown tremendously in its services and community outreach. Wayne has been an exemplary volunteer leader and a wonderful advocate in the past 20 years. We salute you, Wayne!
Michael Olshansky started his journey with NAMI Burlington County in fall 2018 when he walked into a support group meeting. He came on board right away as an avid volunteer and member, assisting with community outreach and distributing resource books to mental health providers, clergy, and other professionals who come into contact with those in crises in their respective fields. Through the process, Michael has developed a better understanding of how stigma has hindered individuals with lived experience of mental illness like himself and family caregivers from seeking the help that they need or making progress in recovery. He has made it his mission to serve the local community and further NAMI’s cause in breaking the stigma. This year, at the invitation of Brenda Hahn, NAMI Burlington’s Executive Vice President, Michael became the Team Captain of the “Burlington County Stigma Stompers” at the NAMIWalks NJ 2019. He spoke at the South Jersey Kick-Off event hosted by NAMI NJ in August, and shared openly not only his personal experiences with how NAMI has helped him but also tips about fundraising for the Walk. His “Why I Walk” sharing encouraged and inspired Madison Stiles, Junior Miss NJ, who sat in the audience and later also shared her journey. Michael’s inspiration and upbeat spirit brings hope and warmth to those around him, and he is well liked by other volunteers and families in NAMI Burlington. Thank you for your contribution, Michael!
Mike Jones has been a long time volunteer in the NAMI family. His family, like many others, lives with mental illness. When Mike discovered NAMI years ago, he took the NAMI Family-to-Family Education course, and quickly went on to become a Family-to-Family teacher. He then participated in local, state, and national level efforts to educate, improve services, and reduce stigma. As President of NAMI Ocean County, Mike coordinated the re-affiliation efforts for Ocean County, who is now fully re-affiliated with NAMI National. Mike has been a NAMI NJ Board member for 12 years, and retired from the NAMI NJ Board in June 2019. He has also been a part of the NAMI NJ Walks implementation team in Ocean County for many years – helping with the local logistics of the Annual Walk in Seaside Park, NJ. Mike dedicated his efforts not only for his own family, but also for fellow veterans, military, and their families. He is the NJ representative on the NAMI National Veteran’s Council, and the founder of the NAMI NJ Military Veterans and Family Council. Mike is our rock star!
Jacy Murphy-Park is the kind of person that every NAMI affiliate wishes they had on their Board. Jacy joined NAMI Greater Bergen’s Board in the summer of 2018 after reaching out to the affiliate and expressing a desire to become involved in NAMI activities. When Jacy realized that we were short on volunteers, she jumped right in to assist. Jacy attended one or two Board meetings before she contacted Meredith Masin Blount, NAMI NJ Executive Director, and Phil Lubitz, Associate Director, to find out what needed to be done for the affiliate’s re-affiliation process. With her organizational and technological skills, Jacy did all the legwork to get NAMI Greater Bergen through the process. Apart from re-affiliation, Jacy has helped the affiliate grow in capacity. After graduating from the NAMI Family to Family education course, she recruited other families to join the Board, one of whom is now the affiliate’s Family to Family Coordinator. The entire team at NAMI Greater Bergen is so appreciative of Jacy and all that she’s done. Well deserved!
As an active advisory member for AACT-NOW, NAMI NJ’s African American outreach program, Edina has helped expand access to resources providing care and support programs for people who struggle to achieve mental health, along with their families. Her passion for helping people of all backgrounds achieve a better quality of life has led her to advocate for underserved populations for more than 10 years. Edina is the vice chair of the Middlesex County Democratic Black Caucus, and the Rent Stabilization board in her town. She serves on the Middlesex County Mental Health Board, and the Executive Board for Middlesex County CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates). She also volunteers with Jobs for America’s Graduates and Dress for Success, where she helps underserved youth and women, gain the skills and resources they need to start their careers. With her rich experience in community service, Edina has added great value to NAMI NJ AACT-NOW and contributed to its important work. As AACT-NOW is moving forward in the new year, Edina spent a lot of time and efforts contributing to the important planning discussions during advisory meetings and participating in outreach events. Thank you, Edina!
Rachel Stetser came to NAMI as a family caregiver over a decade ago after reading an article in the Gloucester County Times written by Elaine Goodman, then NAMI Gloucester County affiliate leader. Rachel soon started to attend NAMI Family Support Group meetings and the Family-to-Family Education Class. Like many NAMI members, Rachel decided to give back by volunteering her time and energy to serve other families. In 2008, Rachel was trained to be a NAMI Family-to-Family educator, and has since taught many successful classes, educating more than 100 families regarding mental illness and coping strategies. She also helped develop consistent Family-to-Family program in Gloucester County since 2012, and received the NAMI NJ Family-to-Family Education Class Award in June 2018. Rachel also became a Certified NAMI Family Support Group facilitator and frequently conducts the monthly family support groups. She has been trained in NAMI Smarts for Advocacy, and attends the NAMI NJ Southern Region Family Support Workgroup meetings. Rachel has served as a board member of NAMI Gloucester County, and contributed to the affiliate’s attainment of the 501(c)(3) status and its steady growth by working with the affiliate’s president, Anna Guida. Rachel has done a superlative job as an exemplary volunteer. We salute you, Rachel!
Brenda Hahn has been an avid NAMI volunteer and Board Member of the Burlington county affiliate – formerly known as NAMI FACE. As the current Treasurer of NAMI Burlington County NJ, Brenda has worked tirelessly to raise funds, support fund-raising activities, see that all contributions are acknowledged and all new members are welcomed. She is also the Office Manager, dedicated to ensuring day-to-day office operations, and she coordinates the affiliate’s participation in NAMIWalks NJ. Brenda holds regular volunteer meetings, promotes membership, and attends support group meetings to advise of special events and maintain good communication. For outreach work, Brenda schedules activities and provides materials for Health Fairs; in the affiliate’s recent participation in the Moorestown Autumn Festival, Brenda helped set up tables and arranged for volunteers to provide brochures as well as NAMI green ribbons for attendees. NAMI Burlington was invited three times in the past four years by Seneca High School of Burlington County and their Psychology club to participate in their Glow Run in the spring and the Corn Maze Challenge in the fall, during which Brenda helped promote the mental health message along with other devoted volunteers. Most recently, Brenda was instrumental in having Burlington City issue a Mental Illness Awareness Week resolution this past October. She has also assisted in the affiliate certification process in the past year. Brenda is truly an exemplary volunteer who wears multiple hats contributing to the affiliate’s services to local communities.
Dominga Gornell is a great asset to both NAMI Warren County and NAMI NJ, as she plays important roles in several NAMI Signature Programs, and shoulders a myriad of tasks for her county affiliate. In NAMI Warren County, Dominga has been the main facilitator for two NAMI Family Support Groups. She attended NAMI National’s Family Support Group Facilitator Train the Trainer Workshop in Washington, DC. Since that time, Dominga has successfully coordinated two NJ State Trainings, resulting in 31 additional Family Support Group facilitators in the state. She worked on every aspect of the training, including logistics, ordering supplies, welcoming trainees and facilitating the two-day, emotionally intense workshop! Dominga is also a NAMI Family-to-Family instructor. She coached the NAMI Warren County Connection facilitators and gave them the extra tools to have a successful support group meeting. She is also instrumental as the newly elected Secretary of the affiliate, bringing with her high organizational skills. She created the first NAMI Warren County newsletter. She has been one of the best fundraisers for Team Warren in the NAMIWalks NJ for the past two years. Dominga meets her commitments as she balances family responsibilities and NAMI volunteering. Her enthusiasm and energy are infectious as she graciously shares her knowledge and understanding of what it is like to support a person living with mental illness. NAMI NJ is lucky to have such an incredibly dedicated volunteer as Dominga. She is truly an inspiration!
Click here to see the dedicated webpage of Ginger Siefring who passed away on June 29th, 2019. Ginger Siefring had served as Vice President and Secretary of NAMI Somerset in 2012-2019. She personally recognized everyone’s efforts not only in their meetings but through her beautifully well informed newsletters. She kept the list up to date of members, attendees and resources and includes information and scheduled events for many other organizations and groups serving their community. She even served as a “messenger for Group wisdom” at members requests. Ginger also volunteered as a parent presenter for NAMI NJ’s Educating the Educators program and had been instrumental in assisting Somerset County pursue its Re-affiliation. Ginger was endless energy, organization and support for so many individuals living with mental illness in Somerset County. With a constant smile and positive attitude, Ginger was the main reason their Family Support Groups are so well attended. Ginger was the soul of the Somerset group, and an inspiration to volunteers across the state!
Jeri Doherty is dedicated and committed to NAMI Sussex. She served as its President from 2010-2016, and since then, has been serving as its Treasurer. She chairs NAMI Sussex’s Education and Support Committees, and is a member of its Advocacy and Anti-Stigma, Fundraising, and Community Outreach and Program Committees. Jeri is a trained NAMI Family-to-Family & Basics teacher, and coordinates both courses. She is also a co-facilitator for two affiliate Family Support Groups. She is the Publicity Coordinator, answers “HelpLine” phone calls for NAMI Sussex, and manages the affiliate’s email account. She also represents NAMI Sussex at county meetings of the Council of Service Agencies, the Professional Advisory Committee to the Mental Health Board, and the North Jersey Health Collaborative. When the opportunity arose this year to bring Ending the Silence program to schools in Sussex County, she completed the training, and helps to coordinate the program for NAMI Sussex. Jeri’s voluntary efforts have truly demonstrated exemplary leadership, initiation and hard work.
As one of the earliest members of NAMI Atlantic, Gail Dembin has devoted 25+ years of her life serving NAMI. Gail is currently the President of NAMI Atlantic/Cape May; she effortlessly manages the day-to-day business, and her commitment to supporting members is obvious in the way she makes sure the core programs run smoothly. Gail has been a NAMI Family-to-Family national certified trainer for over 20 years, along with Marilyn Goldstein, NAMI NJ’s Director of Family-to-Family Education Program. As the affiliate’s education coordinator, Gail has been teaching and managing the NAMI Family-to-Family Education course and NAMI Basics course in her county. She has also been marketing the south Jersey In Our Own Voice program for many years and continues to coordinate the program in Atlantic/Cape May. As an ambassador for the cause, Gail represents NAMI in a consortium of agencies involved with the new Atlantic County Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) to law enforcement and first responders. Gail’s hard work and volunteerism has inspired many NAMI volunteers across the state.
Sam Hartman served as President of NAMI Middlesex for 3 years, from 2015-2018, during which Sam has demonstrated servant leadership, helping with big tasks and small: he provided thoughtful referrals to families reaching out, organized fundraisers, encouraged individuals in distress to seek treatment and avoid crisis, coordinated social groups, improved marketing materials, attended events to promote mental health, and advocated for stigma-free communities. Sam also worked hard on increasing the affiliate’s online presence with a new website, and improving the reach and responsiveness to community’s needs. Under his leadership, the affiliate continued the good work started two decades ago. Now they are ready to pursue re-affiliation with NAMI. Sam has recently moved to New York but decided to stay on the affiliate board.
Pamela Eagan is an extraordinary person. She is a real life superhero to the many people who volunteer with her and most likely anyone who has the pleasure to know her. Pam’s actions usually embody the mission of NAMI to improve the lives of those affected by mental illness and she improves the lives of those volunteering with her because of her generous spirit in sharing her talents, skills and knowledge.
She is currently the treasurer of NAMI Union County. She has been a Board member since 2003. She has served as secretary and president and is the Editor/Developer of Union County Resource Guide (6 editions since 2004). Pam has single-handedly achieved NAMI re-affiliation and 501(c)(3) status for NAMI UC. She has produced a binder of supporting documents for the re affiliation and also a binder with info on membership retention and acquisition which she shares with NAMI Affiliates statewide. Pam has also consistently supported NAMI NJ’s statewide multicultural programs over the years.
Pam has strong opinions but always listens to others and considers their positions. She is generous, charming, smart, talented and loved by many!
Mel reached out to NAMI NJ in hopes of securing volunteering opportunities. She found just that and so much more–she found an ecosystem comprised of individuals, families, and communities full of unwavering dedication, passion, and enthusiasm for mental health advocacy. Inspired by her experiences with NAMI NJ, Mel now serves as a board member in her community, NAMI Hunterdon. She was named as “Volunteer of the Year 2017” by NAMI NJ’s cultural outreach program, CAMHOP, for her selfless support to individuals with lived experience of mental illness and caregivers. Hoping to continue to advocate for mental health and eradicate stigma, she will be pursuing a master’s degree and PhD this coming fall at Rutgers University. She looks forward to applying her graduate training to future volunteer efforts with NAMI NJ.